Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Facing a giant demon

In our last session of City of Judas, my players faced a Giant Demon:


They’ve been hired by the Christian church to investigate an obscure cult - apparently christian as well - that is raiding villages north of Jerusalem and killing priests. It turned out that the cult is searching for three little girls, born in the same day, and all three named Pax (Peace, in Latin). The girls, as our Sorcerer established, have some kind of significance in a ritual the cult is trying to complete.
The characters (a Barber, a Raider and a Sorcerer) kidnapped the girls to bring them to Jerusalem and protect them, but the demon managed to track them. They refused to let the demon take one of the girls and faced it in combat instead.

The fight was real fun: the Raider (known in our group for refusing to use anything but his own, cursed dice that roll 6- embarrassingly often) finally stepped up and his gang proved decisive in protecting the girls. The Barber, although not best equipped for the fight, did her share. The Sorcerer had a somehow clumsy start, but recovered and contributed to the final victory.
But the fight wasn’t easy: both the Barber and the Sorcerer ended up taking a Debility to survive. The Barber is now limping, and the Sorcerer horribly burned by his own magical fire, which the demon spit back at him.

We’re now on hiatus for some weeks, but the players really enjoyed the session and the final “boss-fight”. They felt all the time like they were facing a possible horrible death - which they did - but finally managed to prevail. We’ll be back in Jerusalem next.
I wonder why the church will now demand that the Iron Fist mercenaries will hand over the little girls to them, and what the characters will do [evil grin]

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Two pages from the City of Judas manual

Ok, here you can see a couple of snapshots of two pages of the current release of City of Judas.
I hope you’ll like what we did with the artwork!

And, since it’s a PDF release, you’ll be happy to hear it’s full of tiny clickable text-boxes, that will take you right to the pages discussing the related topics…



Simplifying the design

Again about the design process of City of Judas. I’d love to hear your opinions – as fellow game designers and as players as well.

Here is the first part and here the second…

Designing the Playbooks
Designing the Playbooks was very easy at the start. It’s not a coincidence that a lot of AW-hacks begin with Playbooks: they contain a great deal of the game flavor and color, they’re what you hand out to Players, they say who and what the characters (the protagonists of your story) are, they say what they can do, they contain all the Moves with their exciting options and possibilities…
Of course, after the first couple of drafts, things started to get harder: there are a lot of interactions between the Playbooks to consider, there are the various fields of expertise to define, areas where characters can overlap and others where you want to make sure they don’t; there are some things to keep in balance, and others that clearly need to be out of balance so that the game gets rolling. There are Playbooks that feel easier to design and others that feel a bit boring at the start, until you don’t find the way to turn the concept around and give it the right twist.
At this stage, I still thought: alternative playbooks, alternative combat system, but this game is still going to be running as basic Dungeon World. Or perhaps as a Dark Age spin-off, or maybe under AW. It didn’t go exactly that way.

The Counters & their Moves
I liked so much the Health Counter used in the combat system, that I made more Counters.
There was a counter for Gold (how much money the character had), for Equipment (did the character have all the necessary gear?), for Rings (that were the ranking system of the mercenary company of the Iron Fist), for Taint (how much the character’s soul was dark). Some of them were a different take on classic RPG stuff like money and equipment, and others were tied to the setting (the Rings and the Taint).
I was initially afraid to move to so many Counters (and in the end, I simplified this part in my latest design) but the feedback on the SG forum was that indeed this was an interesting feature. All of those Counters had Peripheral Moves associated with it. This lead to a high number of Moves (which is a painful topic I will discuss further in a dedicated paragraph).
The idea behind this, was to avoid tracking static numbers (how many Rings you have, how much money, which exact equipment you have), and instead make all those components to work basically like Stats.

And now, for two totally unrelated questions:
What is your favorite City of Judas playbook? (if you didn’t play it yet, we don’t mind, just tell us which one looks cooler!!)
Have you played and used the Health, Equipment and Spirit counters? Did they make book-keeping easier??

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City of Judas: how the design process started

Back to the design process of City of Judas. Again, I’d love to hear your opinions – as fellow game designers and as players as well. So feel free to comment, ask questions, present your own experiences!

Click here for the first part

How it started
As I wrote in the introduction to the manual, I was lucky enough to put my hands on the Dark Age beta version from Vincent Baker. It was an inspiring game, and the sessions I’ve ran, at the table or in forums, where always really good.
Now that I designed my own game, I fully understand why Vincent needed to take his time between the various releases of the different versions of his Dark Age game. But back then, after playing the first beta, and while waiting for the next, I grew very impatient.
I didn’t design any AW-hack before, and I thought: “Well, if he doesn’t put out a new version soon, I will”.
And I thought also: “How hard could it be?”
It turned out to be of course harder than I expected, and way more exciting and rewarding, a great and interesting experience. And frustrating at times, tiring. But most of all, it became clear that it was necessarily a slow process. It took me a year from the first public beta to the manual now published, and I had the luck of having a lot of time on my hands to work on it.

Where did I start
Honestly, I don’t remember exactly but there were two things: the Harm Moves (which were inspired by Paul Taliesin), and the Playbooks, and especially the Barber.
While I was still undecided about how I was going to approach the subject (doing my own AW-hack or not, work perhaps with DW instead, or FATE…), I drafted an alternative combat system for Dungeon World. That system was never really tested and I believe it never made it to any real game at the table, but it stuck with me. It felt rough, harsh, and with a flavor to it, something that made it different from AW or DW harm for example.
It felt exactly like the things I would have liked in a slightly crunchy fantasy RPG with bloody, risky combat. And it had no Hit Points, but a Health Counter, from +3 to -3 like a Stat.
Then there was the Barber. Later on I think I’ve read somewhere that Vincent - if I recall correctly, I might be wrong actually - designed the Angel as the first of the AW playbooks. If that’s true, it was a nice coincidence that I got to design the Barber as the first playbook of my own AW-hack (the Barber is the medieval surgeon, and the “healer” in the City of Judas game).
And then I started to play around with some ideas for this dark, medieval setting, and one by one the other Playbooks followed.

And what about you guys; does anyone what to share how did they start to write their game?
Where did the inspiration come from?

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How I wrote City of Judas

This is going to be a series of very brief discussions about the design process of the game. I’d love to hear your opinions – as fellow game designers and as players as well. So feel free to comment, ask questions, present your own experiences!
I am absolutely not an authority on game design, so I’m sharing these with the hope the discussion can actually help me to improve!

While I designed the City of Judas, I looked at multiple sources of inspiration. I hope I mentioned all the important ones in the Credits, but I might have forgotten someone. I apologize for that; if you notice something in my game that resembles the elements of another game, or a concept that was mentioned in some article, blog or forum, feel free to notify me. I will be glad to give the proper credit to those who influenced me.
I did not mention every single source of inspiration, both because some I forgot, and others because the list would have become too long. RPG design is an extremely interesting field, and quickly evolving, as far I can see: it’s really great to see so many committed people, which are also usually very nice in person and kind when you ask for advice.
So if you’re a designer, pick your contacts, ask advice from your favorite authors and don’t be afraid: always look also at other people’s work for inspiration.

If you’ve ever designed a game (who didn’t?), what were your main sources of inspiration? Have you ever reached out to other authors and asked their help? How did it go?

As a Player, what’s your feeling towards game that somehow “recycle” known mechanics, or tune or tinker with them a little? Did you ever encounter an hack which did something in a way that felt “just right” and perhaps suited your personal taste even better than the original?

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